Contractor accountants can really vary in terms of what you get. And price doesn't necessarily give you the whole picture. So how can you make sure that the accountant you choose is the right one?
Firstly it's important to understand what you need from your accountant before deciding which one to join.
Will I get a dedicated accountant?
You'd think all companies would provide a dedicated accountant to contact when you have questions. Unfortunately this isn't always the case.
There are some services that will assign a 'team' to your company, leaving you no choice but to contact a group of accountants or assistants. This can be a real inconvenience especially if all the accountants aren't in the loop of what's happening with your accounts.
Teams can lead to long wait times for a reply and scattered information. In theory however, you should always be able to get in touch with someone for help.
Ideally you'd have just one accountant that you can contact directly by email or phone. They'll usually be more responsive, have a better understanding of your business needs, and generally be more helpful when giving advice.
How much will it cost?
Most accountants will have a fixed fee for their services. So they'll have a yearly price to coincide with calculating annual accounts, but simply bill you in monthly instalments.
And cheaper doesn't necessarily mean that it will be.
What do I mean? Some accountants will have 'addons' for things like VAT registration, monthly payroll or even personal tax returns.
Double check that an accountant's fees are in fact fixed, with no surprise charges. Or if there are extra fees, check that the price makes sense for you. Normally they'll list everything in their terms & conditions.
With Juniper Lynx you won't need to worry about paying more since our service is all inclusive - feel free to find more info on our features page.
Can they provide IR35 advice?
Your usual accountant won't deal with IR35 unless they specifically work with contractors. Why is it important that they can help you with IR35?
For starters, ensuring your contract is fully compliant can give you a good amount of evidence against being caught inside IR35. Ultimately your working practices decide your status. So it's essential to know the difference between being treated like an employee and like a contractor by your clients.
Having your accountant help with that is a huge plus and could save you thousands in backdated tax bills.
If they're IR35 experts and include the service in their usual fees then that's even better. Our post 'What is IR35?' can help you understand exactly what to look for.
How many clients do they have?
Getting your own dedicated accountant is a massive benefit, but how many clients does your accountant actually have? This is a really important factor to consider when making your decision.
Speaking from experience, some companies will allow an accountant to have up to 120 clients; leaving very little time for you. Not to mention they won't tell you this either.
And even if they can deal with that many clients, the chances of them making a mistake is much higher than you'd like from an accountant. It's a profession that requires accuracy. Neglecting that can either cost you money or create hassle for you to correct the error.
At Juniper Lynx we've purposely limited our clients to 50 per accountant; avoiding costly mistakes and ensuring you really do have a dedicated accountant.
Do they provide a bookkeeping software?
These days most accountants have been forced to move their bookkeeping online. HMRC pushing 'Making Tax Digital' was one of the main reasons for this.
Ultimately having your accounts online is better for both parties but can be costly for the accountant. Check that your desired accountant is providing an online bookkeeping software for you to use. Don't be afraid to ask for a demo either.
It's even better if they use a dedicated accounting software because the company will have full-time developers making sure everything's working in top condition. They'll also be able to provide more features that you just won't get with a basic software.
Some of the well-known accounting software companies are FreeAgent, Clearbooks, Xero, QuickBooks, and Sage.
After much testing we've found that FreeAgent is the most user-friendly software for contractors. It'll give actual figures of your company's available profit that can be taken as dividends - complete with corporation tax and VAT calculations so you always know where you stand.
Another thing to keep in mind is how easy it will be to transfer your data if you leave that accountant. Ask that there's a way to store your accounts information locally and what will happen if you want to retrieve your data when you leave.
For example with FreeAgent, the software license will be setup in your name. So if you'd like to leave that accountant you can take your entire software account with you.
Is that all?
Well, it really depends on personal preference at this point. Once you know all the ins and outs of each contractor accountant you were considering, it's down to how you feel about their service and the individual you'll be contacting.
Giving the accountant a quick call or email can usually give you an indication of whether you'll like working with them or not. Obviously if there are many mistakes, long delays with replies, or they speak to you like a robot then it may not be the best fit and it's worth looking elsewhere.
Once you find an accountant that ticks all the boxes for you and delivers a professional service, you can't really go wrong.
If you're looking for more help, check out our other guides:
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